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[Poetics] Maria Hummel

Three Poems


Last night, my eyes could not

meet in the middle. My left

saw a wall where my right

saw a window. My son spoke

to me, a glowing mask. My

hands had any number of

fingers. I counted them as

the room swam. Nothing hurt.

Nothing went numb. It was

twilight on the first sunny day

in weeks. Trees shrugged

their black robes. I could see,

but I had no sight. It lasted

half an hour, then the world

came back. It lasted years,

and in each endless one

I fell toward the center

of myself, which was dark

and far and scorched and

carved with fantastic creatures.


I must have lived too long. I miss

my friends so much. So many

of them loved to cook. They would

stand in their fragrant, sunny

kitchens, making recipes from

the places they’d been, places

that raised them. The flavor of brisket

in California! Nothing will ever equal it,

nor the waiting in my friend’s face

when she laid out her pickles

and salads, the steam in her eyes,

her piled hair, her mouth saying I miss

while the rain that did not fall on us

drummed elsewhere on damp earth,

on seeds that grew into distant,

simpler lives. I wish I could go back,

slip on my sandals and wine glass,

rejoin the tender conversation,

but what could I say? I’ve lost

my own immensity. Eventually

even the ocean becomes a taste,

a meal in itself, gray, raw, and salty,

like a fish, and nothing like it at all.


It dragged my calves

like a tide

sheathed me balled

my knee-breasts


the seams

ghosted my flight

down the stairs

for water

little sister

only daughter

While the boys

my brothers

slept and


I learned to


and stroke it

to make what

I’d need

rope gag nest


Maria Hummel is a poet and novelist, whose books include House and Fire (American Poetry Review, 2013), and most recently, Still Lives (Counterpoint, 2018), a BBC Culture Best Book of 2018. She lives in Vermont.

1 Comment

Karren Alenier
Karren Alenier
Jan 23, 2020

The nostalgia and longing in "After California" reaches into me like a fist wanting the struggle of living to never stop. The opening and closing of the poem speaks to the very formation of life in the womb and yet the details ground this poem so that everyone can relate to it. It's beautiful.

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